Members present: nsf staff present

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Merit Review Criteria Discussion, Dr. Stephanie Pfirman, Moderator, with Dr. Tim Killeen and Dr. Fae Korsmo, NSF OD

  • Dr. Korsmo stressed both the desire on the part of the Director for input from the Committee on the broader impacts criterion and the need for urgency of the input since a report is mandated to Congress on the topic in June 2011.

  • Committee discussion followed and Dr. Pfirman summarized suggestions for NSF: develop better guidelines to focus the community, both on the criteria themselves and also on the implementation; recognize distinctions between different types of projects; find ways to multiply the effect and fund those through institutions, networks, banks, and museums; find ways to create synergies; find new ways to use reports that are being done to understand what’s going on; help with the metrics, short-term and long-term; realize that failure is part of doing business, and; use technology to help us.

SEES/Clean Energy Discussion, Dr. Bruce Logan, Moderator, with Dr. Bob Detrick, GEO EAR DD; Dr. Ian Robertson, MPS DMR DD; and Dr. Gregory Rorrer, ENG CBET

  • Dr. Rorrer highlighted some Engineering investments in sustainable energy and stated in the CBET (Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems Division) there have been $66 million in energy-related awards, about 20 percent of the total award portfolio in the division. These awards represent a full spectrum of areas in sustainable energy.

  • Sustainable Energy Pathways, a working group co-chaired by Dr. Rorrer, is an NSF-wide activity encompassing seven directorates and offices which embrace the interface between science, technology and society to advance sustainable energy.

  • Dr. Bob Detrick noted GEO is participating in Sustainable Energy Pathways and defined what is meant by sustainable energy pathways: characterizing a resource through a potential renewable energy resource, through energy production, energy storage, energy distribution, energy conservation, potentially to the environmental impact of the use and adoption of that particular renewable energy source on a broad scale.

  • Dr. Ian Robertson informed the Committee on activities that have been happening in MPS and also in partnership with Engineering. Their focus has been energy generation: how to produce enough energy to satisfy demands, particularly relating to system design and integration of alternative energy sources.

  • Committee discussion followed the presentations. Comments and responses included: Dr. Janetos noted the importance of understanding the energy system--how it evolves; how it responds to both policy changes and physical changes. He noted there is an active research community looking at these issues from a modeling perspective.

  • Dr. Alessa reiterated the importance of integrating social sciences into the work and stated it is the job of the Committee to give guidance on that. Dr. Skole noted the huge role economists can play using real theory and real models in such fields as carbon finance, emissions trading, cap and trade, emissions finance.

  • Dr. Skole stressed the importance of a clear articulation of NSF’s unique role in the field in order to avoid being labeled as a redundancy with possible negative budget consequences. He suggested that role might be the linkage of the fuel side/energy side, which is Department of Energy’s focus, with the material side, NSF’s focus.

  • Dr. Brown pleaded that we not forget the implications of land use tradeoffs, i.e., tradeoffs between food, farms, houses, forests, carbon sequestration, et cetera.

  • Dr. Roberts noted the interface between research activities in computer science and social sciences, i.e., use of smartphones to give quick feedback on energy choices.

International Update, Dr. Tim Killeen, and Dr. Maria Uhle, GEO

  • Dr. Killeen first reiterated the Director’s desire to obtain input from the Committee on the international programs. To frame the presentation, he stated there are tremendous opportunities emerging internationally because of the evolution of environmental sustainability across many nations. Advice from the Committee on how NSF should proceed would be helpful.

  • Dr. Uhle summarized the international activities in this arena. In essence, international cooperation is essential for the science to move forward as societies move to adapt and mitigate global environmental change across the regions. There is need to build capacity in developing countries, need for more interaction between social sciences and natural sciences, and need for a new paradigm of thinking about the issues.

  • ICSU (International Council for Science) has identified five grand challenges: (1) forecasting; (2) enhancing observation systems; (3) anticipating and avoiding disruptive global environmental change; (4) responding; and (5) encouraging innovation in technology and also policy and social responses.

  • The Belmont Forum has morphed into the Alliance, an emerging international strategic partnership among scientists, funders, operational service providers and end users that will seek sustainable solutions to global environmental change. It is focused on forecasting, observations, global sustainability and innovative technologies. Dr. Killeen asked for input on the design and function of the Alliance.

  • Committee discussion followed the presentation. Dr. Janetos emphasized the overall strategy has to include real tangible roles for countries that view themselves as global players, i.e., China, Brazil, Indonesia, and that are desirous of leadership roles.

Working Lunch - Collaborative Networks, Dr. Joe Travis, Moderator, with Dr. Alan Tessier, BIO

  • Dr. Tessier reviewed the history of interdisciplinary research at NSF and described Research Coordination Networks (RCNs). He noted the Advisory Committee is the one voice for interdisciplinarity at the Foundation, helping to ensure that NSF supports interdisciplinarity that is built on the disciplines, not separate from them.

  • Dr. Tessier stated that a flagship program within SEES will be support for Sustainability Research Networks. They have evolved in order to have interdisciplinarity across big gaps and involve collaborations between people who are coming from different perspectives, who must learn to value and trust each other. Recently, a new RCN solicitation has been opened with a SEES track. SEES track solicitations will be managed by a working group with representatives from all directorates.

  • Following the presentation, Committee discussion ensued. Dr. Alessa spoke from her experience of having been involved in an RCN and noticing that people self-organize into networks and then network with other RCNs.

  • Dr. Pfirman suggested a model to study is the Climate Education Partnerships, which offers the ability to apply for supplements.

  • Dr. Kay stated NSF should be a steward, not just an enabler, and it needs to come up with the vision because the fields cannot always do that.

Meeting Wrap Up and Action Items

  • To recap agreed-upon action items, Dr. Travis stated he will draft a letter to Dr. Suresh. It will contain an endorsement of SEES, encouraging the Director to be its champion; convey our sentiments on the merit review criteria, international engagements, and describe what we’re going to be doing next. Committee members will give high-level feedback to Dr. Killeen regarding the SEES solicitations.

  • Dr. Cavanaugh stated the charge of the Committee allows bilateral communication with the community, and suggested when the SEES solicitations go out, it would be terrific for members to let people know about the opportunity.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 p.m.

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